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Guns, Lots of Guns A John Wick Chapter 2 Movie Review

john-wick-2-posterjpg-fe1944_1280wGuns, lots of guns… wait, wrong movie… right?

The first John Wick movie was a dark, gritty, story about revenge, heavy on gun work and with a surprising level of characterization.  To top things off, when the YouTube video of Keanu Reeves doing gun training for the sequel aired, it was straight out awesome.

Needless to say, I was pretty stoked to see the sequel.  And in some ways, it really doesn’t disappoint.  The gunwork and action scenes are phenomenal.  The choreography is fantastic, the method of John Wick’s murder spree is bloody display of art… but there’s very little of the deep motivations from the first movie.

In the first movie, John Wick is a man driven by revenge and hate.  We not only see how much has been taken from him, but we see the pettiness and brutality of the men that took it away.  We root for his vengeance, as an audience, and excuse the mass-murder rampage that results.  It’s very much like Kill Bill, in that regard.

The second movie has none of these motivations.  He’s had his revenge, he’s killed everyone in his path… and (not to spoil things, but you can guess from the fact that there is a sequel) he gets pulled right back into the life of an assassin.  John Wick kills a lot of people.  Most of them are presumably bad.  He doesn’t have the motivation or drive to do it, he has no revenge, no anger, no justification beyond the preservation of his miserable life.  In that, it feels as if the writer just didn’t really know what to do.

Spoiler (highlight to read): He does it for a sort of murky reason in that he doesn’t want to have the entire criminal underworld come after him.  In fact, he kills more people in this movie than in the last, 128 versus 77 in the first one.  He has his marker to justify, but the end result of him fulfilling the marker is the same as if he hadn’t… so why bother, why did all these other people have to die?)

In the end, John Wick Chapter Two fails to do what the first movie did: rise above being gun-porn.  Don’t get me wrong, it does that gun-porn fantastically… but it’s ultimately a shallow movie that doesn’t have the depth of characterization of its predecessor, nor does it have the interesting plot.  The villains are mono-dimensional and the lack of motivations of John Wick reduces his murderous rampage into a mass shooting event where he guns down droves of nameless mooks.

I came hoping for a story of revenge or vengeance and I walked away at the end feeling as if nothing had been resolved.  The action and acting are fantastic… the story and characterization is flat.  I recommend it for a popcorn movie, but it doesn’t achieve the depth of the original movie.

Guns, lots of guns
Guns, lots of guns…
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All your galaxies are belong to us… Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy

 

I have to admit, the movie I was most excited about this summer was Guardians of the Galaxy.  Why?  Well, I had never heard of the comics, I don’t even read comic books.  I didn’t know much about the characters or setting, just what I saw in the trailers… and what did I see there?  Humor, action, space opera, heroes, villains, and people stuck in between.

Guardians of the Galaxy delivered all of that, in spades.  It managed to turn a sarcastic, vicious character into an object of pity with a couple seconds out of a scene, without the use of words.  Characterization of the group was excellent, with each figure being a mix of both comedy, tragedy, scum, and reluctant hero, all rolled up into individual pieces that stood strong and alone.  Rocket is phenomenal, with some of the best lines in the movie, yet far from being just a comedic element.  Drax the Destroyer is at once both a juggernaut but also Shakespearean.  Vin Diesel may only ever say three words as Groot, but he manages to put subtle emphasis into it… and Groot comes across as both very alien and a character we can empathize with at the same time.  Peter Quill is brilliant: a humorous rogue with dreams of success at odds with his own larcenous heart and his past he can’t quite escape.  What’s not to like?

It’s serious space opera, with epic landscapes, space ships, travel between worlds, alien races galore, and conflict with nothing less than the fate of billions at stake.  The movie makes excellent use of dramatic tension and comedic elements, blending both to the point that you almost feel whip-lashed… yet they work so seamlessly together that you can laugh even at the tightest moments of drama and still be on the edge of your seat.  I’d love to go into more detail, but in consideration of those who haven’t seen it yet, I’ll leave off.

All that said, the movie does have a few faults, minor though they are.  Gamorra is probably the weakest characterized of the heroes, not due to any fault of Zoe Saldana, but more because her character gets sidelined a bit.  The villains, while dark, don’t get enough screen time to really establish themselves, in particular, Ronin the Accuser is a nasty, scary sort, but we just get told he’s a fanatic and have to just roll with that.  Nebula is awesome, with some of the best lines in the movie, particularly between her and Gamorra.  I would argue that Nebula has more of a developed character than Gamorra.

Still, these are minor things.  This is the first movie I’ve seen in years that I want to go back in theaters not just for a second screening, but also a third.  Guardians managed to take first place for my movies this year… and I would be very surprised if anything can knock it off that pedestal.

Robocop Movie Review

I am not, as a general rule, a huge fan of movie remakes.  Now and again, however, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.  When I went to see it, I expected it to be a simple action flick.  Lots of shooting, some explosions, and robots and bad guys getting mowed down left and right.  What I didn’t expect was a surprisingly deep (for Hollywood) action movie with political and ethical questions.

Without giving too much away, let me say this: the movie has a rather murky and mixed message.  In some aspects, actors come across as almost caricatures and in others, you might feel almost like you’re being preached to… but you aren’t really sure what the message is supposed to be.  At the same time, there are moments in the movie where I was nodding my head at a reveal… or chuckling at a bit of satire.  The politics of security versus freedom was touched upon.  There was a good bit of character growth for a doctor, which I found interesting, while he fought between his ambition and his medical ethics.  There was also some decent discussion of the ethics of using automated weapons on American citizens…  Messages were there, but they were sometimes open ended, almost as if the director or actors didn’t want to agree with the conclusion.

As far as the action itself… by and large it was impressive.  There were some excellent firefights… if you could get past the ‘shaky cam.’  I don’t know about most viewers, but I don’t like leaving the theater feeling dizzy.  There were a couple of scenes where it was literally too much, where my brain just kind of went into shut-down because there was strobing lights, dark backgrounds, and a shaking, spinning camera.  To top it off, even the the moments where the main character was literally getting pounded, it was hard to have any dramatic tension… I mean, the moment of drama was solved before we really had any anticipation of danger.  There wasn’t enough build-up, I suppose.

The movie looked good, though.  And despite the nausea inducing shaky-cam, it was mostly fun.  In my opinion, it was a better movie than the original, which is a good thing.

47 Ronin Movie Review

Going with my decision to write up movie reviews for science fiction and fantasy movies, I feel I must review 47 Ronin. That said, while I enjoyed the movie, I feel a little conflicted. On the one hand, it was enjoyable, in and of itself (a popcorn movie, but fun), in a lot of ways I feel it didn’t do the original story justice.  While I’m not extremely knowledgable about it, I do have at least a passing familiarity with the history as well as the original fictionalization: the Chushingura.  The movie 47 Ronin is loosely based upon actual events that occured in the early 1700’s.  Notice, I said loosely, because in the original story, there is no halfbreed, trolls, monsters, or evil witches.

These things, I feel, were added to make the movie more flashy, and less of a historical drama.  That kind of thing can draw audiences, but the story of the Chushingura is one that, in many ways, can stand by itself without flash (ie, lots of special effects, huge explosions and weird pirate towns).

In 47 Ronin, they went for the flash and, in many ways, they succeeded.  It is a fun movie, with lots of amazing scenes.  There were a few times where I felt like they did a scene just to give it the feeling of a comic book, much like the movie 300.  47 Ronin has a solid story which sticks (mostly) to the original, other than the prementioned additions.  The reasons for those additions are extreme at times, but looking at them from the perspective of a writer, I can see why they made those additions, even if I don’t agree with them.  The additions, at least, are ones which are internally consistant and maintain the flow of the story.

The movie doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t try for a happy ending, which I appreciate.  Though only lightly explained in the movie, the dedication and loyalty of the samurai is there to be seen.  Though I wish there were more characterization of them as individuals, as a whole, they come across as men who follow an iron-bound code of honor in an imperfect world… and they know that sometimes the right decisions are ones which will require sacrifices.  Their unflinching focus on duty that forced them to make those sacrifices is what makes the story so powerful.  Personally, I think it is a story that resonates very well with western cultures, the draw of duty, the necessity of revenge, and the idea of self sacrifice.

The movie captures this, often with small, yet poignant, scenes.  Sometimes those scenes are between the action and sometimes they are right in the middle of it all.  All in all, it was an enjoyable movie with several underlying themes which I appreciated, and it sparked an interesting discussion on the way home from the theater.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Review

This being a SF/Fantasy blog, I thought I should comment on The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.  I’ll preface the review with one minor note.  The Hobbit was the first Fantasy novel I ever read.  In many ways, it set me on my own unexpected journey, and it will always hold a special place for me.  That said, I’m not one of the types of people who requires a movie to be an exact replica of the book it was based upon, so that has also had some effect on how I viewed the movie.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug manages to make a full length movie (very full at over 160 minutes) out of what was a relatively small section of The Hobbit.  They do this through the addition of scenes that were not in the book.  To make this clear, they weren’t in the book, but some of them are referenced in the book or in JRR Tolkien’s notes.  Some of these scenes and even characters are made up for the movie.

They do this to develop the film from an adventure set from Bilbo’s perspective into a much grander thing.  In the book, The Hobbit, we know there is this greater world, of which we only see the smallest portion, and then only through one character’s eyes.  The movie expands upon this, while staying true to Tolkien’s concept of Middle Earth.

All that aside, it was a lot of fun.  I’m not the type to see movies twice in theaters, but I did with this one.  I think that the character development and story arcs are what made the movie so great, for me.  The special effects were nice, and the story was good, but special effects seem to be easy enough, anymore and I already knew what was going to happen, seeing as I read the book and all.  The characters are where the movie makes its money.  The first stirrings of the One Ring’s pull on Bilbo.  Kili’s interaction with Tauriel.  Thorin’s internal conflict between ambition and responsiblity.  Even Gandalf has moments of character development as he is forced to weigh his duties to his companions versus his duties to all of Middle Earth.  These characters are those we come to care about, and makes them far more real, for their conflict, suffering, and hardships.

The big reveal on Smaug was excellent, though at times, with the vast scale of the dragon and his domain, it is difficult to put him to scale to a man, dwarf, or even hobbit.  I left knowing he was big, really big, but somewhat uncertain as to relative sizes.  My only complaint, about Smaug, is not the graphics, or the sound of his voice, or any of that.  Smaug seems a little to much the cliche villian, given to long, profound monologues while he lets heroes get away.  Maybe it’s just me, but he seemed far more clever and conniving when he and Bilbo had their battle of wits in the novel.

All in all, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

Thor: Dark World Review

I’ll preface this by commenting that I grew up on action and even a few comic book movies… but I never read comic books. So while I’m sure there are some diehard comic book fans who know far more about Thor than me, well, that’s fine. I’m reviewing this as a movie, and also as part of the series of movies that Marvel has done.

Disclaimer aside, I really enjoyed Thor: The Dark World. It was fun, exciting and adventurous. Better yet, the previews, for once, didn’t give the whole movie away. The movie had an irreverent sense of humor, epic scope and felt almost more like space opera than a comic book movie. Which is good, because I’m awful sick of the ‘dark gritty’ feel I’ve gotten from some comic book movies of late (Batman and Superman, I’m looking at you).

I’ll do a quick rundown of things I liked first, and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers. First off, the characters. We got to see a different side of Thor, Loki, and the ‘mere’ mortals who run around in their circles. We got to see Thor planning and thinking, rather than just smashing. We saw Loki and some of his other motivations… and just how twisted his brain can be. There was some character development for Jane Foster, we got to see the long term effects of Loki’s mind control of Doctor Selvig, and we even got to see the indomitable Odin affected by events.

As far as the plot, things worked along at a pretty reasonable pace. There were plot twists, and changes and all manner of transitions. Thankfully, the movie didn’t try to overwhelm. I would say the best plot twists are those used in marketing. The trailers often suggested certain things to happen, yet they didn’t happen quite the way you might expect. In fact, some of the trailers set up false expectations which I really enjoyed during the movie, because when I got to those points, I had context and I realized that I didn’t know what was going to happen from the trailers. In fact, I had to figure things out during the movie.

As far as the actual effects and visuals… I found it interesting. I would not watch it in 3D if I saw it again (which I might). The 3D graphics were sort of meh. The overal visual effects were pretty good, though I would say that they made some parts of Asgard less grand in scale and other parts much bigger. I thought the overall looks of the movie were very impressive, and I never felt like the plot or any particular scenes happened just to show of some new special effect.

As far as the emotional impact, this movie managed to generate excitement, happiness, laughter, sadness, and even a sense of wonder. That’s pretty good for a superhero movie. In fact, they managed a couple scenes that were both beautiful and sad, which I found impressive. I’ve heard some complaints about the humor being buffonery of certain characters, but I’d disagree. In the context of how they presented the characters, it was at least internally consistant. Besides, they managed to produce the humor without undercutting the principle characteristics of those characters. The humor, the irreverence, kept this movie from feeling pretentious, and showed the audience that it wasn’t afraid to laugh at itself a little.

I continue to be impressed by how Marvel has both handled the individual movies of their series and also how they have continued to build the franchise. They’ve planned how these movies connect and yet managed to make them stand effectively alone. They’re big, blockbuster movies, but they’re fun, and they go into all of them with goals and plans of what they want to attain. It’s a refreshing change for movies, rather than how most sequels are “quick, milk the franchise for all the money we can!”

Ender’s Game Review

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In keeping with the general theme of this blog as a SF/F platform, I’m going to strictly limit movie reviews and comments.  However, Ender’s Game being a major influence on me as a kid in me in book form, I think the movie deserves some attention as well.

First off, let me clear the air of the standard line: I am ignoring Orson Scott Card’s politics, religion, etc.  It has little bearing on the movie, less, especially, because of the ‘boycott’ which punished cast and crew of the movie for someone else’s politics.  OSC got his paycheck before the movie ever went live.  But I digress.

The movie, first off, was surprisingly good.  Why do I say surprisingly?  Well, I’ve a very low opinion of most movies based off of books I liked.  By and large, big movie magnates go for little more than name recognition and then morph the story into rather generic/homogeneous crap.  There are exceptions, and there have been a growing number in recent years.  However, by and large, I don’t approach a movie with much optimism about the book.

Ender’s Game, as movie, I found interesting, engaging, and they managed to include a great deal of the book without making the movie feel crowded.  The movie engaged the audience with some of the moral dilemmas from the book, but allowed them to enjoy the action sequences without guilt over the choices made by the characters.  The action sequences were energetic and the emotional turmoil was there in enough amounts to feel sympathy for the characters without forcing the audience to wallow in angst.

Were there things that they could have done better?  Absolutely, but you can say that about many movies.  I could argue that the mind game had only a few seconds of movie time but took up a much more significant part of the book.  Still, with those few seconds, they managed to establish Ender’s character and also to build the links to the end of the movie.   The side characters didn’t have much screen time, and there wasn’t much time spent building up Ender as a leader and strategist, we mostly hear about it from everyone else.  This worked, but it might have worked better as a montage or mileu.  Still, I think the characterization of Ender and the essential characters was established enough to form sympathetic bonds and to encourage the viewers to want to learn more (and hopefully go out and buy the books).

There were a few plot jumps and additions, and they glossed over the lack of FTL (besides communication), and outright changed it a little bit to make other things work.  Still, I think the changes were more from a technical standpoint of allowing for a more dramatic turn around and as a way to avoid the seventeen endings of the Return of the King movie (I loved them all, but it did get a little ridiculous, just saying).

As a book, Ender’s Game gave me a desire to serve and defend my nation, made me fall in love with space, and delivered to me the knowledge that empathy can be just as cruel a weapon as anything.  As a movie, I think Ender’s Game does a good job of capturing the imagination of the next generation and appealing to a wider audience, and maybe bringing some of them into reading science fiction.  Those are both important things, in my opinion.  We need people to look to the stars and wonder what lies out there.  After all, as Ender’s Game showed, other beings might be wondering the same thing.